The rhetorical presidency today: how does it stand up?The Rhetorical Presidency by Jeffrey Tulis has had a good run. Since its publication in 1987, the book has achieved landmark status in the field of presidential studies. It has also influenced scholarship in American political development, constitutional theory, and communication studies.
The allure of The Rhetorical Presidency derives from the compelling story it tells about pre-twentieth-century presidents. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Tulis, these presidents operated under a different constitutional understanding than do modern presidents. Because the original Constitution was based on a preference for careful policy deliberation deliberation n. the act of considering, discussing, and, hopefully, reaching a conclusion, such as a jury's discussions, voting and decision-making.
DELIBERATION, contracts, crimes. and a fear of demagoguery Demagoguery
(1876–1956) corrupt mayor of Jersey City, N. J., for 30 years. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1173]
Long, Huey P.
(1893–1935) infamous “Kingfish” of Louisiana politics. [Am. Hist. , premodern pre·mod·ern
Existing or coming before a modern period or time: the feudal system of premodern Japan. presidents understood that they should not communicate with the public on policy matters. Instead, these presidents knew that they should direct their policy ideas to Congress, in writing. Tulis says that all pre-twentieth-century presidents except Andrew Johnson conformed to this "constitutional norm." The decision by Congress to impeach To accuse; to charge a liability upon; to sue. To dispute, disparage, deny, or contradict; as in to impeach a judgment or decree, or impeach a witness; or as used in the rule that a jury cannot impeach its verdict. and almost remove Johnson from office after he went on a tempestuous tem·pes·tu·ous
1. Of, relating to, or resembling a tempest: tempestuous gales.
2. Tumultuous; stormy: a tempestuous relationship. speaking tour in 1867 illustrates the power of the norm (Tulis 1987, 4-6, 46-47, 59, 87-93). (1)
In The Rhetorical Presidency, Tulis bases his conclusions about the public communication behavior of premodern presidents on two sets of data. The first set is the speeches these presidents made. The second set is a sampling of their written communications. From his review of both kinds of presidential communication, Tulis finds that presidents in their public rhetoric generally avoided addressing policy specifics, and instead couched their communications in broad themes of patriotism and national principle. He claims that this consistent communication behavior by presidents for so long after the republic's founding proves the existence of a widely understood--but now superseded--norm against presidents communicating with the public on controversial policy matters. Because it fit so well with his reported research findings, Tulis's account of the role that presidents were originally intended to play in the constitutional order has been widely accepted.
Tulis performed an important service by directing scholarly attention to the public communication activities of premodern presidents. However, the empirical foundation of The Rhetorical Presidency is becoming increasingly weakened, thereby calling into question the overarching o·ver·arch·ing
1. Forming an arch overhead or above: overarching branches.
2. Extending over or throughout: "I am not sure whether the missing ingredient . . . theory of the book. Subsequent scholarship has found that the world of premodern presidential communication practices was not nearly as cleanly clean·ly
adj. clean·li·er, clean·li·est
Habitually and carefully neat and clean. See Synonyms at clean.
In a clean manner.
clean ordered as Tulis portrays. This article reviews those research findings and offers an alternative explanation for the variability in presidential communication behavior uncovered by the new research. This alternative explanation is based not on a now-superseded constitutional norm, but rather on the conflicting attitudes toward the presidency that have always been a characteristic of the office. (2)
There are two reasons for the differences in research findings. First, research into the public speeches and writings of premodern presidents has revealed many more instances of presidents engaging in policy-oriented rhetoric than Tulis found. This research shows that at least eight presidents, not just the one identified by Tulis, communicated openly with the American people on policy matters at various times during their administrations. Even according to his own limited analytic criteria, Tulis missed many historical incidents of public policy communication by early presidents.
Second, Tulis in his research employed an analytical framework that excluded from consideration the administration-sponsored newspapers that were used by at least 10 presidents to communicate extensively with the public on policy matters. Tulis thus neglected an institution of fundamental political importance through which many early presidents did just what he said they abstained from doing.
In terms of their public communication approaches, premodern presidents can be classified according to four types: Open Communicator, Veiled Communicator, Patriotic Cheerleader, and Silent Head. Open Communicators publicly addressed specific policy issues in their own names, through speeches or public letters. Veiled Communicators addressed policy issues through anonymous commentaries, sometimes written by presidents themselves but more often by others on behalf of the president, in "presidential newspapers" that were widely understood to reflect administration views. Patriotic Cheerleaders Notable cheerleaders
As the table shows, the world of pre-twentieth-century presidential communications was more robust and complex than The Rhetorical Presidency depicts. Eight presidents communicated openly with the public on policy matters at times during their administrations. Another seven communicated their positions in a thinly disguised fashion through their presidential newspapers. (Three open communicators--Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Zachary Taylor--also used presidential newspapers). Thus, 15 of the 24 presidents in this era actually communicated extensively with the public on policy matters during their administrations. On the other hand, according to current scholarship, nine did not. This variation arguably ar·gu·a·ble
1. Open to argument: an arguable question, still unresolved.
2. That can be argued plausibly; defensible in argument: three arguable points of law. has a partisan philosophical basis, reflecting the different attitudes toward presidential and popular involvement in government that characterized the dominant philosophies of the two major political parties in America during this time.
An Updated Evaluation of Pre-Twentieth-Century Presidents and Their Approaches to Policy-Oriented Public Communication
Ironically, in light of its title, The Rhetorical Presidency employs a definition of presidential "rhetoric" that communication studies scholars regard as incomplete. Tulis's main analytical focus is on presidential speech that is policy oriented and directed to the public rather than to Congress. Employing these criteria, he concludes that early presidents behaved much differently than their modern counterparts. He finds that early presidents either refrained from speechmaking or, when they did make speeches--usually in quasi-ceremonial settings--confined themselves to general, patriotic, non-policy-oriented matters.
Communication studies scholars, in contrast, have a much broader definition of presidential rhetoric. First, it is not limited to speech, but can include anything, even nonverbal non·ver·bal
1. Being other than verbal; not involving words: nonverbal communication.
2. Involving little use of language: a nonverbal intelligence test. conduct, that conveys a message, including dress, ceremonies and rituals, appearances, tours, written messages, and newspapers. Second, the rhetoric can address anything, not just policy matters. Third, it can be directed to anyone (Medhurst 2008, 330). Under this broader definition, every president since George Washington has engaged in rhetorical conduct for political ends (Lucas 2008; see also Hoffman 2009).
In the field of presidential studies, which focuses on how the presidency functions in the political system, "going public" is defined appropriately as the process by which presidents attempt to influence the policy-making process by communicating with the public instead of with Congress. On the other hand, it seems obvious from a political science standpoint that the study of this practice ought to include any means by which presidents communicate with the public on policy matters. That is the approach employed here in the discussion of those presidents who either openly or covertly communicated with the public on policy matters.
"Open Communicators:" Presidents Who Made Speeches or Issued Public Letters
Presidents Who Made Policy-Oriented Speeches, Besides Andrew Johnson, four other presidents made public speeches in which they addressed specific policy issues. In this group, William McKinley stands out. McKinley made scores of speeches on issues such as trade treaties, trust-busting legislation, keeping the country on the gold standard, and whether the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. should retain the Philippine Islands as territories following its victory over Spain in the Spanish-American War Spanish-American War, 1898, brief conflict between Spain and the United States arising out of Spanish policies in Cuba. It was, to a large degree, brought about by the efforts of U.S. expansionists. . In one two-week tour in late 1899, he made more than 80 policy-oriented speeches. In fact, his assassination Assassination
See also Murder.
Fanatical Moslem sect that smoked hashish and murdered Crusaders (11th—12th centuries). [Islamic Hist.: Brewer Note-Book, 52]
conspirator and assassin of Julius Caesar. [Br. in 1901 occurred just one day after he had given a speech at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo before 50,000 people in which he argued strenuously on behalf of several reciprocal-tariff treaties that were being held up in the Senate (Laracey 2002, 134-38).
McKinley was so successful at dominating the public policy-making process that prominent commentators such as Joseph Pulitzer began writing articles about how Congress had "abdicated" its policy-making role. Nevertheless, Tulis portrays McKinley in The Rhetorical Presidency as a classically reserved president whose speeches focused on patriotic themes and "very general, principled prin·ci·pled
Based on, marked by, or manifesting principle: a principled decision; a highly principled person. statements of policy" (1987, 134). Tulis has since acknowledged that McKinley did in fact specifically address important public policy issues in his speeches, and that his previous characterization of McKinley's speechmaking was mistaken (Tulis 2007, 487). (5)
Another president who communicated openly with the public on policy matters is Zachary Taylor. (6) In 1849, Taylor made a six-week speaking tour, mainly through Pennsylvania and New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of , in which he delivered numerous speeches on such crucial policy issues as tariffs, internal improvements, slavery, and war. His pronouncements and even his speaking style were much discussed in the newspapers of the day, and his statements about slavery antagonized Southerners and figured prominently in the calculations of congressional leaders.
In their analysis of Taylor's tour, Richard J. Ellis and Alexis Walker conclude that the characterization in The Rhetorical Presidency of Taylor's speeches as not having addressed policy issues was "wrong." They also criticize Tulis's "selective reading" of biographies of Taylor that disregarded discussions of Taylor's policy-oriented speechmaking (Ellis and Walker 2007, 261-62). Ellis describes the more than two dozen speeches that Taylor gave on a tour through Pennsylvania in 1849 in this way:
Sometimes these speeches were only bland acknowledgments of thanks, but often they communicated his positions on important issues facing the state and the nation. Taylor also had a number of formal and informal issue-oriented conversations with groups of citizens. (2008, 78)
Ellis and Walker also disagree with Verb 1. disagree with - not be very easily digestible; "Spicy food disagrees with some people"
hurt - give trouble or pain to; "This exercise will hurt your back" Tulis's portrayal of James Monroe, another president who they find did address public policy in his speeches. Monroe made several tours of the country while president, and at many stops along the way, he was greeted by, and replied to, citizen welcoming committees. According to Ellis and Walker, "the documentary record of Monroe's tour[s] shows conclusively that neither the president nor the welcoming committees shied shied 1
Past tense and past participle of shy1.
the past of shy1 or shy2 away from talking about public policy" (2007, 266; see also Ellis 2008, 35-38). Ellis and Walker also determined that Monroe made many more speeches--perhaps 400 if Monroe himself is to be believed--than the 40 Tulis identifies in The Rhetorical Presidency (Ellis and Walker 2007, 266 n. 46; Ellis 2008, 251 n. 7,255 n. 49). (7)
The last of the premodern presidents known to have given numerous policy-oriented speeches was Abraham Lincoln. In the middle of a civil war, Lincoln tried to be very careful in everything he said or wrote. Yet he made a number of speeches (an average of more than 19 per year), wrote many public letters, and even gave a few interviews that addressed the most critical issues of his time. In his speeches, he expressed his ideas on, among other issues, reconstruction, the use of African Americans in the military, and emancipation (Laracey 2002, 101-12).
Presidents Who Communicated Through Public Letters. Several presidents addressed the public on important policy issues not through speeches, but through letters that they wrote and released for publication in newspapers across the country. In The Rhetorical Presidency, Wulis does not identify public letters issued by presidents as a unique form of presidential communication. In fact, he asserts that "the practice of [presidents] issuing 'statements' was not done officially in the nineteenth century" (1987, 139). Instead, "when important issues were communicated to the people," he says, "the proclamation served as the vehicle" (53). He then observes that presidential proclamations, even though directed to the public, were themselves rhetorically constrained:
The form of the proclamation virtually ensures that the central rhetorical appeal of any proclamation will be the authority of the president (or of the government as a whole) rather than factors peculiar to the president's persuasive abilities. Put another way, the proclamation's persuasive power derives more from the fact that the president proclaims, or commands, than it does from a case that he builds. (52)
On the contrary, as the following discussions of John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln show, presidential public letters were very different from proclamations. These public letters relied not on presidential "command," which in any event is itself a rhetorical tool of persuasion, but on presidents attempting to justify their actions to the American public. Tulis's failure to consider public letters as a unique form of presidential communication in The Rhetorical Presidency is a glaring omission.
The first president who communicated with the public on policy matters through public letters was John Adams. In 1798, Adams got deeply involved in the national debate over whether the United States should go to war with France. To signal his position, Adams began appearing in public "wearing a full military uniform with a sword strapped to his side" (Ferling 1992, 356). He also wrote public replies to more than 100 of the letters he received from citizen groups expressing support for his bellicose bel·li·cose
Warlike in manner or temperament; pugnacious. See Synonyms at belligerent.
[Middle English, from Latin bellic stance.
Assessing the overall content of Adams's replies, Terri Bimes concludes that "these addresses made explicit policy and partisan claims" (2007, 250). An earlier scholar, Manning Dauer, uses terms such as "belligerent" and "virulence Virulence
The ability of a microorganism to cause disease. Virulence and pathogenicity are often used interchangeably, but virulence may also be used to indicate the degree of pathogenicity. " to describe Adams's bombastic prowar statements and attacks on the patriotism and courage of his opponents. Engaging in sheer partisanship, Adams in one letter urged voters to support the straight Federalist fed·er·al·ist
1. An advocate of federalism.
2. Federalist A member or supporter of the Federalist Party.
1. Of or relating to federalism or its advocates.
2. ticket, because the election of even a few Republicans, whom he called "disorganizers," would be "sufficient to destroy the good neighborhood, interrupt the harmony, and poison the happiness of a thousand families." Impugning the patriotism of Republicans, he added that "a town that is free from them will ever prove their federalism federalism.
1 In political science, see federal government.
2 In U.S. history, see states' rights.
Political system that binds a group of states into a larger, noncentralized, superior state while allowing them in elections, be firm in the cause of their country, and ready to defend it in all emergencies" (Dauer 1953, 142-43).
Adams made his statements very publicly. Two prominent newspapers in Philadelphia published all of them, and newspapers across the country published many of them. (8) In all, 107 of the citizens' letters, and 90 of Adams's replies, were also published in pamphlet form (Dauer 1953, 143; Oberg et al. 2005, 202). Although Adams communicated in writing, his letters were the functional equivalent of speeches. After all, in an era with no sound amplification or recording, speeches (which are usually delivered from written texts anyway) could only actually be heard by a small number of people. The public at large could only "hear" the speeches when they were published in newspapers or pamphlets, as was done with Adams's letters. This was the only feasible way at the time for presidents to address a wider public on policy matters, and Adams did it.
The political significance of Adams's statements is obvious in the reactions of his opponents. Many of his public letters incensed the leaders of the opposition, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Madison told Jefferson that he thought some of Adams's statements were "the most abominable and degrading that could fall from the lips of the first magistrate of an independent people" (May 20, 1798, letter, in Hunt 1900-1910, 6:320-22). Jefferson monitored the letters as they were published in the newspapers, and kept an annotated list of the most offensive statements that Adams had made (Oberg et al. 2005, 196-202). It would seem that, if there really was a constitutionally based norm against presidents addressing the public on policy matters, these very extensive public communication efforts by Adams would have been widely condemned. However, there was no such censure A formal, public reprimand for an infraction or violation.
From time to time deliberative bodies are forced to take action against members whose actions or behavior runs counter to the group's acceptable standards for individual behavior. In the U.S. of Adams, even though he was acting at a time when almost all of the major actors in the founding of the American republic were still actively involved in the political affairs Political Affairs has several meanings:
Thomas Jefferson also issued public letters during his presidency. Two of these are well known: his 1801 defense of his appointments policies to a New Haven New Haven, city (1990 pop. 130,474), New Haven co., S Conn., a port of entry where the Quinnipiac and other small rivers enter Long Island Sound; inc. 1784. Firearms and ammunition, clocks and watches, tools, rubber and paper products, and textiles are among the many merchant group that was unhappy with his replacement of a Federalist port collector with a Republican, and his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists regarding the "wall of separation" between church and state (Peterson 1975, 296-304). In 1807-8, Jefferson sent a number of public letters to citizen groups defending his unpopular trade embargo policy. He also sent a letter to the governors of Orleans, Georgia, South Carolina South Carolina, state of the SE United States. It is bordered by North Carolina (N), the Atlantic Ocean (SE), and Georgia (SW). Facts and Figures
Area, 31,055 sq mi (80,432 sq km). Pop. (2000) 4,012,012, a 15. , Massachusetts, and New Hampshire New Hampshire, one of the New England states of the NE United States. It is bordered by Massachusetts (S), Vermont, with the Connecticut R. forming the boundary (W), the Canadian province of Quebec (NW), and Maine and a short strip of the Atlantic Ocean (E). in which he blamed problems with enforcing the embargo on "merchant sharpsters and Federalist politicians" (Spivak 1979, 108, 148, 204, 223,158). In all, he wrote more than 20 public letters, at least a dozen of which were published in newspapers (Laracey 2009).
That Jefferson wrote letters to communicate with the public during his presidency is simply not acknowledged in The Rhetorical Presidency. Instead, Tulis states that "Jefferson offered no popular communications Popular Communications is a magazine with content relating to the radio hobby, including scanners, shortwave radio, CB, and amateur radio. The magazine includes articles, schedules of shortwave stations, and logs of pirate radio communications sent in by readers. other than [three] meetings with Indian delegations. He preferred to supplement direct messages to Congress with private communication (letters, meetings, etc.)." In a footnote, without any further discussion, he adds only that "of course, many of these private communications were leaked to the press" (1987, 70).
Because Tulis claimed that his research findings "extended to 'unofficial' or 'informal' speech and behavior by presidents," he should not have dismissed the obvious communicative aspect of this "leaking" so readily (1987, 59). After all, Jefferson himself could have been the "leaker," a possibility that is actually close to the historical truth. In fact, Jefferson wrote letters to be published in newspapers for the explicit purpose of communicating with the American public. For example, Merrill Peterson describes Jefferson's letter to the New Haven merchants as an "official letter, communicated to the press," and says that Jefferson "seized the occasion for a public statement of his patronage policy" (1975, 296 n. 1).
James Madison, Jefferson's successor, continued the practice of writing public letters, especially in the early part of his administration, when he was struggling with the continuing fierce opposition in New England New England, name applied to the region comprising six states of the NE United States—Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The region is thought to have been so named by Capt. to trade restrictions against England and France. In one week, from March 15 to March 22, 1809, he wrote eight letters responding to supportive resolutions he had received from Republican Party organizations in Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Seven of the letters were then published in his presidential newspaper, the National Intelligencer. In the letters, Madison stressed three main themes: the need for citizens to respect the actions and laws of the national government, even when following them went against their own interests; his disdain for those who were trying to weaken the Union by exploiting regional differences over national policy; and his concern that opposition to the country's foreign trade policy would embolden em·bold·en
tr.v. em·bold·ened, em·bold·en·ing, em·bold·ens
To foster boldness or courage in; encourage. See Synonyms at encourage. its enemies. In addition to these letters, Madison wrote at least 14 others along similar lines from 1809 to 1811. At least four of those letters were also printed in the National Intelligencer (Laracey 2009). (9)
Finally, there is Abraham Lincoln. In his public letters, Lincoln discussed a number of policy matters. These included the steps he would take against the rebel states; the constitutionality of some of his orders during the Civil War, such as his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus Noun 1. writ of habeas corpus - a writ ordering a prisoner to be brought before a judge
judicial writ, writ - (law) a legal document issued by a court or judicial officer ; and the complaints of some Northerners that they were not happy fighting to free slaves. His letters were printed in newspapers across the country, and in 1863, a number of them were published by a Boston publisher in a pamphlet titled The Letters of President Lincoln on Questions of National Policy (Laracey 2002, 107-11; Sandburg 1939, 4:380-87).
Most famously fa·mous·ly
1. In a way or to an extent that is well known: "his famously neurotic mannerisms [are] lampooned in the novels of Evelyn Waugh" , Lincoln in one of these letters responded to newspaper publisher Horace Greeley's public plea that Lincoln immediately free all the slaves. Lincoln's public reply left no doubt in Americans' minds about what their president thought about the dominant policy issue of the day: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that" (Basler 1953, 5:388-89).
Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg described another one of Lincoln's public letters, which was first read to a citizens' meeting in Illinois before being published in newspapers across the country, as a "carefully wrought appeal in simple words aimed to reach millions of readers." Lincoln considered traveling to Springfield to deliver the letter as a speech, but finally decided instead to ask a trusted supporter to read the letter aloud "very slowly." This speech-letter was delivered to a self-styled group of "unconditional Union men" who were unhappy with Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation Emancipation Proclamation, in U.S. history, the executive order abolishing slavery in the Confederate States of America. Desire for Such a Proclamation
. Lincoln met their objections deftly deft
adj. deft·er, deft·est
Quick and skillful; adroit. See Synonyms at dexterous.
[Middle English, gentle, humble, variant of dafte, foolish; see daft. , suggesting that if the group was not happy fighting to "free negroes," they should then just fight "exclusively to save the Union" (Sandburg 1939, 4:380; Laracey 2002, 109).
Tulis actually does briefly discuss two public letters that Lincoln wrote. His discussion of them illustrates the difficulties that presidential public letters pose in general for his thesis. In his one-paragraph discussion of the letters that Lincoln wrote to defend his imposition of martial law martial law, temporary government and control by military authorities of a territory or state, when war or overwhelming public disturbance makes the civil authorities of the region unable to enforce its law. and suspension of habeas corpus in some parts of the country during the Civil War, Tulis describes the letters as being consistent with the "general doctrine" described in The Rhetorical Presidency because they were in writing (1987, 83). The form of communication is, of course, only one part of the supposed "doctrine," or norm. Lincoln clearly did nor follow the other, more significant part of the norm--that presidents should not communicate with the public on policy matters--when he wrote the letters knowing they would be made public.
Tulis addresses this discrepancy in an inconsistent fashion. He at first states that the letters did not violate this part of the norm because they "were addressed to those affected by such action," as if only those who had personally experienced Lincoln's imposition of martial law and suspension of habeas corpus would read the letters. In fact, Lincoln knew that the letters would be published in the newspapers for all to read. In his next sentence, though, Tulis provides another explanation that contradicts the first one: because Lincoln had based his actions "upon a Lockean understanding of 'prerogative,' he was compelled to realize, as Locke did, that the 'ultimate appeal' in such unusual situations is to the people" (1987, 83).
Trying to make the two letters fit his theory, Tulis first offers an implausible im·plau·si·ble
Difficult to believe; not plausible.
im·plausi·bil explanation of how they really do fit the theory, and then shifts to explaining away the letters as special exceptions to the general rule that presidents should not address the public on policy issues. (10) He does not mention other letters of Lincoln that did not involve the prerogative An exclusive privilege. The special power or peculiar right possessed by an official by virtue of his or her office. In English Law, a discretionary power that exceeds and is unaffected by any other power; the special preeminence that the monarch has over and above all others, power, such as the one in which the president addressed the complaints of white soldiers over having to fight with black soldiers in the Union army. Nor does he consider other letters of Lincoln that were clearly addressed to all Americans, such as when Lincoln responded, in a nationally published letter, to the entreaties of Greeley and others that he abolish slavery during the Civil War (Laracey 2009).
While he at least mentions two of Lincoln's public letters, Tulis says nothing about the public letters of Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. In short, there is no comprehensive consideration in The Rhetorical Presidency of presidential public letters, even though these letters obviously differ significantly from the other forms that Tulis does examine in depth: speeches, messages to Congress, proclamations, and executive orders.
In sum, the open public communication efforts of Adams, Monroe, Taylor, Lincoln, and McKinley all seem to have matched or even surpassed those of Andrew Johnson, the only president Tulis identifies in The Rhetorical Presidency as having engaged in such conduct. (11) Measured in time, for example, Monroe's, Taylor's, and McKinley's speaking tours all exceeded the duration of Johnson's 19-day, 60-speech speaking tour in 1867 (Tulis 1987, 88). Monroe, Taylor, and McKinley also gave far more speeches on their tours than did Johnson, and 90 of Adams's public letters were reprinted in newspapers and pamphlets.
"Veiled Communicators:" Presidents Who Used Newspapers as Surrogate surrogate n. 1) a person acting on behalf of another or a substitute, including a woman who gives birth to a baby of a mother who is unable to carry the child. 2) a judge in some states (notably New York) responsible only for probates, estates, and adoptions. Means of Communication
Another seven presidents, while not making speeches or issuing letters, were still able to inform the American public of their views and administration positions. They did so through their own sponsored partisan newspapers. (Three other presidents--Jefferson, Madison, and Taylor--also utilized presidential newspapers as part of their communication strategies in addition to openly communicating with the public through letters or speeches.)
Partisan newspapers, which were published to promote a political party's leaders and positions, played a critical but largely underappreciated role in American political development. For most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these newspapers were a fundamental part of American political life at the mass communication level (Pasley 2001). From 1800 to 1860, at least 10 presidents were connected to newspapers that actively presented their administrations' policy views to the public. These presidents were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan.
Especially after 1800, these presidential newspapers circulated far beyond the nation's capital via the U.S. postal system postal system
System that allows persons to send letters, parcels, or packages to addressees in the same country or abroad. Postal systems are usually government-run and paid for by a combination of user charges and government subsidies. . They served a variety of functions: promoting the president and his policies, attacking opponents and their arguments, articulating party orthodoxy and positions, providing cues to the party elite, and informing and mobilizing interested citizens. These newspapers provided ready-made "official" political commentary that other friendly newspapers throughout the country could reprint--and elaborate on for their own readers. All of this was done on behalf of a president through commentaries written by the newspaper's editor or publisher and other anonymous contributors. The facade of separation between presidents and their newspapers enabled presidents to have it both ways. They could communicate with the public, but in a formally separate way that allowed them to disclaim any connection with the communications and even disavow TO DISAVOW. To deny the authority by which an agent pretends to have acted as when he has exceeded the bounds of his authority.
2. It is the duty of the principal to fulfill the contracts which have been entered into by his authorized agent; and when an agent a particular statement when politically advisable.
Political newspapers had little in common with our modern concept of what a newspaper should be. Newspapers in this country are now generally expected to be balanced purveyors of news and commentary. In contrast, these older partisan newspapers existed precisely for the purpose of conveying a particular political message on behalf of a president or a party. Because the public regarded presidential newspapers as speaking for their sponsors, a comprehensive analysis of policy-oriented presidential communication during this era must consider them.
The direct involvement of some presidents with their presidential newspapers is well documented. George Washington's "prime minister," Alexander Hamilton, quickly established a pro-administration newspaper in the new nation's capital. He wrote numerous commentaries, signed with pseudonyms This article gives a list of pseudonyms, in various categories. Pseudonyms are similar to, but distinct from, secret identities. Artists, sculptors, architects
In the later years of the Articles of Confederation there was much agitation for a stronger federal union, which was crowned with , and attack the opposition (Greenstein 2009; Laracey 2002, 49-51). Thomas Jefferson sent material to his newspaper's editor for publication, encouraged political allies (including James Madison) to write anonymous commentaries for the paper, and even authored several commentaries himself (Ames 1972, 39; Appleby 2003, 47; Cunningham 1963, 253-74; Johnstone 1978, 110). James Madison made even more use of his presidential newspaper, employing the same techniques (Brant brant or brant goose, common name for a species of wild sea goose. The American brant, Branta bernicla, breeds in the Arctic and winters along the Atlantic coast. 1956, 1961). Andrew Jackson met daily with his paper's editor to determine what his newspaper would be communicating. James Polk described in his diary the close working relationship he had with the editor of his paper (Laracey 2002, 73, 87). The high level of presidential involvement with these newspapers indicates the key role the papers played in the public communication strategies of many presidents.
Presidential newspapers were understood by political leaders and the public to be speaking on behalf of the president and his administration. There is significant evidence of this public understanding throughout the history of the presidential newspaper, as the following brief survey shows.
Richard Rubin describes the Washington/Hamilton Federal Gazette of the United States, which began publishing in 1789, just a few weeks after Washington's inauguration, as "an officially sanctioned organ of incumbent political opinion" (1981, 12). When a Massachusetts Republican leader wrote to Vice President Aaron Burr burr (bur) bur.
Variant of bur.
1. a plant seed capsule carrying many hooked structures which catch in animal coats thus promoting dissemination of the plant. in October 1801 to inquire whether Thomas Jefferson's newspaper, the National Intelligencer, could be considered a "reliable" guide for Jeffersonian Republicans, Burr wrote back to say that the Intelligencer had the "countenance and support of the administration," and that the paper's "explanations of the measures of government and of the motives which produce them are, I believe, the result of information and advice from high Authority" (Cunningham 1963, 259). When she was in New York in 1803 and hearing rumors about the Louisiana Purchase Louisiana Purchase, 1803, American acquisition from France of the formerly Spanish region of Louisiana. Reasons for the Purchase
The revelation in 1801 of the secret agreement of 1800, whereby Spain retroceded Louisiana to France, aroused , Margaret Bayard Smith Margaret Bayard Smith (20 February, 1778 – 7 June, 1844) American author born in Pennsylvania to Colonel John Bubenheim Bayard & Margaret Hodge. Her father was with Washington at Valley Forge when she was born. She was the seventh of eight children. , the wife of Samuel Smith Samuel Smith or Sam Smith may refer to:
n an auxiliary function of teeth, particularly those in the anterior sector of the dental arch; the formation of sounds of this matter [in the Intelligencer] and to ascertain what is true. Everyone seems to rely on what you assert as the truth" (1906, 40). (12) A few days after the passage of the Embargo Act Embargo Act
Legislation by the U.S. Congress in December 1807 that closed U.S. ports to all exports and restricted imports from Britain. The act was Pres. Thomas Jefferson's response to British and French interference with neutral U.S. of 1807, the Intelligencer carried several commentaries that were widely assumed to have been written by Secretary of State James Madison to publicly justify the administration's policy (Malone 1974, 487).
James Madison was deeply involved with his presidential newspaper, the National Intelligencer, which he had inherited from Thomas Jefferson. He wrote commentaries and outlines for commentaries for the newspaper, conveyed policy information to the editor of the newspaper who then wrote editorials based on that information, and had other top administration officials, including his Secretary of State James Monroe, write commentaries for the paper too (Ketcham 1971, 524, 526; Stagg 1983, 17, 68-69 105). Although the commentaries were always unsigned unsigned
(of a letter etc.) anonymous
Adj. 1. unsigned - lacking a signature; "the message was typewritten and unsigned"
signed - having a handwritten signature; "a signed letter" , the Intelligencer was widely understood to be reflecting the policy views of Madison and his administration (Brant 1970, 511, 558; Ketcham 1971, 518). In fact, foreign diplomats advised their governments of U.S. policy positions based on what they read in Madison's newspaper (Brant 1970, 465, 482; Ketcham 1971, 525).
Andrew Jackson achieved his reputation as the first "people's president" not for the relatively few speeches he made, but through the pages of his presidential newspaper, the Washington Globe. Planning to cripple crip·ple
One that is partially disabled or unable to use a limb or limbs.
To cause to lose the use of a limb or limbs. the semiprivate sem·i·pri·vate
Shared with usually one to three other hospital patients: a semiprivate room.
Adj. 1. Bank of the United States Bank of the United States, name for two national banks established by the U.S. Congress to serve as government fiscal agents and as depositories for federal funds; the first bank was in existence from 1791 to 1811 and the second from 1816 to 1836. by withdrawing all government deposits, Jackson became concerned that Congress might override his decision. The solution, developed by Amos Kendall Amos Kendall (August 16, 1789 – November 12, 1869) was an American politician who served as U.S. Postmaster General under Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Many historians regard Kendall as the intellectual force behind Andrew Jackson’s presidential administration, , a former newspaper publisher and one of Jackson's "Kitchen Cabinet" of political advisors, was to make public appeals to the American people in the pages of the Globe. Kendall advised Jackson to withdraw the deposits well before the new session of Congress would begin. "Give us several months to defend the measure in the Globe," Kendall asserted, "and we will bring up the people to sustain you with a power which Congress dare not resist." Jackson followed Kendall's advice to turn the fight into "a direct issue between the Bank and President Jackson, backed by his invincible popularity," and ultimately prevailed (Smith 1977, 134-35). On another occasion, displeased dis·please
v. dis·pleased, dis·pleas·ing, dis·pleas·es
To cause annoyance or vexation to.
To cause annoyance or displeasure. with a U.S. Supreme Court decision by John Marshall that threatened to undermine white ownership of formerly Indian lands, Jackson had his secretary of war, Lewis Cass, write an anonymous commentary in the Globe that made clear Jackson's desire to have the precedent overturned, which new Jackson appointees to the Supreme Court eventually accomplished (Robertson 2005, 134, 140-41).
When Martin Van Buren succeeded Jackson as president, he kept the Globe as the official newspaper of his administration, and it was widely understood to be operating in that capacity. A measure of how closely the newspaper was identified with him is that a commentary in the Globe once caused a panic on Wall Street. After an article in the Globe defending Van Buren's plan to use excess tax revenues to retire debt was reprinted in New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City
City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S. newspapers, the commentary was taken as confirmation that the plan would be put into effect, and stock prices plummeted. According to an opposition newspaper, "No sooner was this article generally read in this city ... than everything in and about Wall Street [turned] gloomy. People look as if some terrible calamity had overtaken them; as if the plague or the cholera cholera (kŏl`ərə) or Asiatic cholera, acute infectious disease caused by strains of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae that have been infected by bacteriophages. were among them" (Laracey 2003, 4).
James Buchanan, the last president to have a presidential newspaper, was so closely identified with the paper that he finally had to terminate his connection to it in 1860 when the paper's editor persisted in taking editorial positions that conflicted with Buchanan's policies. Buchanan did so, he wrote the editor, because of the political problems the paper was creating for him: "The difficulty is that the Constitution is considered my organ, and its articles subject me to the charge of insincerity in·sin·cere
Not sincere; hypocritical.
insin·cerely adv. and double dealing" (Pollard pollard
fine protein-rich feed supplement for farm animals; a byproduct from the milling of wheat for flour. Called also shorts. 1947, 299).
That so many presidents were held responsible politically--both positively and negatively--for the contents of their presidential newspapers would seem to be conclusive evidence CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE. That which cannot be contradicted by any other evidence,; for example, a record, unless impeached for fraud, is conclusive evidence between the parties. 3 Bouv. Inst. n. 3061-62. that the newspapers were widely understood to be speaking on their behalf. In fact, Tulis himself has suggested just such a test as a way to determine whether these newspapers really were a form of popular presidential leadership (Tulis 1998, 216). The obvious conclusion is that they were.
Tulis has since responded in two ways to the argument that presidential newspapers represent another means by which presidents communicated publicly on policy matters in the nineteenth century. First, he says, presidential newspapers demonstrate the power of the norm he advanced in The Rhetorical Presidency, because they are instances in which presidents chose newspaper communication on their behalf by surrogates rather than engaging in direct speechmaking. (13)
This argument neatly skips over the fundamental challenge that presidential newspapers present to the norm of a reserved rhetorical presidency. They are examples of presidents communicating with the American people on policy matters, rather than directing those communications to Congress. The key point is not that these presidents were conforming to an injunction against policy-oriented speechmaking, which some may well have been doing. Rather, it is that they used newspapers to evade the injunction so easily. These presidents were communicating their policy positions to the public, in violation of the supposed norm.
The second argument that Tulis makes is a deeper one. He acknowledges that "in the nineteenth century partisan newspapers were often used to advance presidential policy agendas." He says this is "not news" to "students of presidential leadership," and points out that he mentions the practice (without examining it) in The Rhetorical Presidency. That presidents used newspapers instead of speechmaking, however, he says, means that they were engaging in a different "form" of communicating, and that difference in form has "tremendous significance" (Tulis 2007, 31; 2008, 487).
Apparently, it is the act of reducing an argument to writing rather than delivering it orally that is so significant:
[W]ritten expression, principally addressed to Congress but secondarily addressed to the people at large, was thought to enhance the status of the president as a constitutional officer. Conversely, direct oral performances before the people, except on extraordinary occasions, was [sic] thought to undermine the status of the president as a constitutional officer. (Tulis 2008, 31)
Somehow, putting something in writing elevates the discourse, not only constitutionally but also rhetorically. "Policy rhetoric" that is directed in writing to Congress, Tulis says, is "constrained by the written form and the character of the immediate audience. To the extent that the people read these [written] speeches [to Congress], they would be called upon to raise their understanding to the level of deliberative de·lib·er·a·tive
1. Assembled or organized for deliberation or debate: a deliberative legislature.
2. Characterized by or for use in deliberation or debate. speech" (1987, 46). In addition, Tulis asserts, a speech directed to Congress is "more constrained than the speech would be if given in the open air to the people at large" (133).
A full response to these assertions would go beyond the main purpose of this article, which is to show that, in fact, many pre-twentieth-century presidents communicated with the public on policy matters in various ways. Briefly, however, there clearly are some difficulties with the claim that putting something in writing, rather than speaking it, automatically pushes the audience into a more deliberative mode. Those who hear a speech may indeed be emotionally aroused by it. On the other hand, in an era of no sound amplification or recording and difficult travel conditions, all speeches had to be put into written form and then published in order to be communicated to the mass public. In fact, undoubtedly in recognition of this reality, one of the most famous policy "speeches" of this era, George Washington's Farewell Address, was never spoken by Washington but instead was communicated to the American people (not Congress) through publication in newspapers. (14)
If George Washington had spoken his Farewell Address to a crowd in Washington, D.C., or somewhere else, and the text had then been published in newspapers, would it really have been understood or thought about by Americans differently? In the judgment of one scholar of the history of political rhetoric in the United States, there was no real difference between political speech and political writing at this time:
On of the most important editors of the eighteenth century, Benjamin Franklin, observed that "Modern Political Oratory oratory, the art of swaying an audience by eloquent speech. In ancient Greece and Rome oratory was included under the term rhetoric, which meant the art of composing as well as delivering a speech. is chiefly performed by the Pen and the Press." Until the late eighteenth century, the dominant form of political communication between officeholders and voters was the speech.... Beginning during the American Revolution and accelerating in the nineteenth century, however, printed forms of electioneering rhetoric came to dominate political communication to an enlarged and increasingly literate electorate.... By using emphatic punctuation punctuation [Lat.,=point], the use of special signs in writing to clarify how words are used; the term also refers to the signs themselves. In every language, besides the sounds of the words that are strung together there are other features, such as tone, accent, and , typographical ty·pog·ra·phy
n. pl. ty·pog·ra·phies
a. The art and technique of printing with movable type.
b. The composition of printed material from movable type.
2. devices, slogans, and woodcuts, newspapers conveyed the "presence" of speech. (Robertson 1995, 9)
"Forms" can indeed be profound, or they can be, especially for those who deal in the politics of the real world, just empty "formalities." In this case, if presidents often did, one way or another, communicate with the American public on policy matters, what important difference does it make as to how the communications were made? (15) Perhaps the "forms and formalities" that Tulis refers to are indeed of "tremendous significance," but, especially in light of the complex variability in the actual communications behavior of pre-twentieth-century presidents, they need to be identified and their significance explained and justified rather than simply asserted (Tulis 2008, 31).
The "Inconvenient Truth" About George Washington and John Adams
The Rhetorical Presidency conveys the impression that presidents overwhelmingly (except for Andrew Johnson) conformed to the norm that "detailed descriptions of the state of the union with suggestions for change would be written, and addressed principally to Congress" (Tulis 1987, 46). Although Tulis acknowledges that the Constitution does not literally impose these requirements, he says that "following principles of the general theory of the Constitution, early presidents and Congresses assumed that written messages were constitutionally prescribed" (46).
There is a major factual problem with this assertion: the first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, delivered all of their State of the Union addresses to Congress not in writing, but personally in speeches. (16) Thus, for the first 12 years of the new American republic, presidents in delivering their annual messages to Congress acted contrary to the norm described in The Rhetorical Presidency.
These were two of the founding fathers of the nation, Washington being the most eminent of all. If anyone should have been aware of a norm and behaved accordingly, it should have been these two men. Yet they failed to act in the way Tulis prescribes in The Rhetorical Presidency.
Tulis says nothing in The Rhetorical Presidency about this discrepancy. He discusses Thomas Jefferson's decision to begin delivering the annual message to Congress in writing, and Woodrow Wilson's decision to return to the original practice, but that is all. (17) That Washington and Adams acted one way, and Jefferson another, indicates that there cannot have been only one constitutionally proper way for presidents to conduct themselves rhetorically before the twentieth century.
The Significance of the Revised Results
Instead of just one pre-twentieth-century president, Andrew Johnson, who communicated with the public on policy matters, there are 15. On the other hand, nine presidents in this era avoided doing so. And of the 15 who did communicate with the public on policy matters, seven mainly used the facade of a newspaper identified with their administration, rather than making speeches or issuing statements in their own names.
What might account for the variation? Each of these presidents could have had different reasons for behaving as they did with regard to public communications. Some plausible general inferences can be drawn, however. The eight presidents who did communicate on policy matters through public speeches or letters during their administrations must have thought that what they were doing was a legitimate part of the job of being president. The seven who mainly used presidential newspapers to communicate with the public on policy matters must also have thought that what they were doing was legitimately part of their job, but for some reason(s), they wanted to avoid communicating overtly, in their own names. They might have acted in this way for strategic reasons, so that they would not be linked too closely to the public pronouncements, or to maintain the appearance of being "above politics." Finally, those who avoided public communications on policy matters could have had a variety of reasons for doing so. They might have been lazy or indifferent. More plausibly, they could have been refraining from public communications for strategic reasons, or even because they believed presidents should not communicate publicly on such matters.
Classifying all of these presidents into two categories--their general partisan affiliations and whether or not they engaged in extensive public communication efforts on policy matters--suggests an explanation for the variation in presidential behavior.
As table 2 shows, 10 of the 11 pre-twentieth-century presidents who were "Democrat-oriented" did engage in forms of "going public," presenting their views to the public on policy matters at least some of the time, one way or another. On the other hand, only 5 out of the 13 "Republican-oriented" presidents communicated with the public on policy matters in any way, and one of them, George Washington, did so through an intermediary, Alexander Hamilton, who in turn used anonymous newspaper commentaries to do the job.
This division suggests that not one but two constitutional understandings, or "constitutional constructions," to use Keith Whittington's (1999) term, could have been influencing the public communications behavior of presidents in this time period. Democrats, who trace their lineage back to Thomas Jefferson, were far more populist oriented than were Republicans, who inherited from Federalist and Whig philosophy a much more limited view of the role of "the people" in the affairs of government. These differences are epitomized in the struggles between the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the Democrat-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. These groups essentially coalesced around two very different views of the extent to which "the people" should be involved in the affairs of government (Appleby 2003, chap. 1; Wilentz 2005; Wood 1991, chap. 13). These views remained major points of difference between the two major parties throughout the nineteenth century (Gerring 1998, 86-87).
Construing their role in the constitutional order as one of active involvement in the policy-making process as agents of the "people," Democrat-oriented presidents would naturally have sought to communicate with the public on policy matters. On the other hand, Republican-oriented presidents, construing their role in the constitutional order as one in which Congress--and not the people or presidents--was in charge of making policy, would have avoided communicating with the public on such matters. This tension in attitudes toward the presidency was epitomized in the presidency of Andrew Jackson:
During the Jacksonian era, the president was commonly hailed as "a man of the people A Man of the People is a 1966 satirical novel by Chinua Achebe. It is Achebe's fourth novel. The novel tells the story of the young and educated Odili, the narrator, and his conflict with Chief Nanga, his former teacher who enters a career in politics in modern Nigeria. " and heralded, by Democrats at least, as a direct representative of the people and executor executor n. the person appointed to administer the estate of a person who has died leaving a will which nominates that person. Unless there is a valid objection, the judge will appoint the person named in the will to be executor. of the popular will. The ideology of republicanism had been premised upon executive restraint, tethering the president through strict construction of the Constitution and deference to the people's elected representatives in Congress. Jacksonian ideology, in contrast, ushered in a populist vision that empowered the president to act in the name of the people. (Ellis 2008, 9)
When citizen welcoming committees discussed policy with James Monroe and Zachary Taylor during those presidents' tours, they were demonstrating this populist attitude toward the presidency. So, too, were those who, when Abraham Lincoln ended one brief pre-inauguration speech by asking whether he had "said enough," shouted from the crowd, "No, no. Go on" (Laracey 2002, 102).
The opposite attitude of executive restraint is illustrated by Congressman William Plumer's description of a social call that he paid to President Jefferson in 1803: "Went in company with several of my friends, to pay a ceremonious cer·e·mo·ni·ous
1. Strictly observant of or devoted to ceremony, ritual, or etiquette; punctilious: "borne on silvery trays by ceremonious world-weary waiters" Financial Times. visit to the President of the United States. Some of the Federalists think we ought not to visit him, because he acts more as the head of a faction, than that of the nation" (Brown 1923, 193). Although Jefferson was indeed acting as the Republicans' legislative leader while president, he was still trying to conceal his actions in deference to the Federalists' different attitude toward the presidency. In 1803, when he sent a senator a bill that he had written to establish a government for the Louisiana Territory Louisiana Territory was a historic, organized territory of the United States from July 4, 1805 until December 11, 1812. It consisted of the portion of the Louisiana Purchase that was not partitioned off into Orleans Territory, which later became the state of Louisiana. , Jefferson urged the senator to keep his authorship secret. "You know with what bloody teeth and fangs the federalists will attack any sentiment or principle known to come from me," he cautioned (Johnstone 1978, 151).
Presidents who, like Jefferson, used presidential newspapers had a public communications tool that allowed them to accommodate both of these attitudes. Through their sponsored newspapers, presidents could address partisan-tinged matters while staying formally "above politics." A similar technique that presidents used in the nineteenth century was to make public appearances with cabinet members. The cabinet members would deliver partisan, policy-oriented speeches, while the president would "take the high road, delivering a message of unity" (Ellis 2008, 236). Both of these communication strategies helped presidents satisfy the conflicting popular (and institutional) demands that they be both head of party and head of state.
There are four major empirical difficulties with the account of presidential behavior that Tulis advances in The Rhetorical Presidency. First, several more presidents communicated directly with the public on policy matters than the one, Andrew Johnson, identified by Tulis. Four other presidents--James Monroe, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, and William McKinley--also made many public speeches in which they addressed policy matters. Three others, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, issued public letters that addressed important policy issues during their presidencies. This makes eight presidents who, through public speeches or letters, addressed policy matters at least some of the time during their administrations. (18)
Second, even without making many speeches or writing public letters, seven other presidents still communicated with the public on policy matters during their administrations. They were able to do this through their presidential newspapers. The anonymous commentaries in these politically sponsored newspapers were widely understood to reflect administration views. These presidents were George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James Polk, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan.
Third, the public communications behavior of Zachary Taylor completely confounds the tenets of The Rhetorical Presidency. Taylor addressed policy questions in his public speeches, which means that he could not have been constrained by a norm against such speechmaking. Nor was he punished politically--for example, by impeachment-for engaging in this speechmaking. In addition, Taylor used a presidential newspaper. Because he was also making public speeches that addressed policy matters, however, he clearly was not just using the newspaper as an acceptable "form" to get around an otherwise binding norm against such presidential communications.
Fourth, in a different way, George Washington and John Adams also did not behave as they should have according to Tulis. Both of these presidents delivered their annual State of the Union messages to Congress in speeches. As noted previously, this behavior flatly contradicts the supposedly well understood, constitutionally based norm that presidents should convey their policy ideas to Congress in writing.
While there may have been an element in early American political culture that disfavored public pronouncements by presidents on policy matters, it was hardly the overarching constitutional "norm" portrayed in The Rhetorical Presidency. The first two presidents did not even act according to the part of the norm that said presidents should deliver their policy messages to Congress in writing. Moreover, to the extent that something like a norm or cultural attitude influenced presidential behavior, it was really quite weak, because it did not actually deter presidents who preferred to follow a different constitutional understanding. Eight of them just went ahead and communicated openly to the public on policy matters. Only one of the eight, Andrew Johnson, even arguably experienced any negative political consequences for doing so (and those consequences were partisan driven; see Laracey 2002, 112-20). Another seven presidents who wanted to communicate on policy to the public just did so by using anonymous newspaper commentaries that were widely understood to reflect administration positions.
Tulis's great insight in The Rhetorical Presidency is his observation that so many pre-twentieth-century presidents were publicly silent about matters of policy, in stark contrast to modern presidents. This observation has spurred much important inquiry into the nature of the presidency and the deliberative aspects of our constitutional system. However, Tulis goes too far in turning the observation into a general theory that predicts essentially the same behavior--no communications to the public about policy matters--by all premodern presidents (except Johnson).
Because of the constraints of his theory, Tulis misses, downplays, or explains away in unrealistic fashion evidence that does not fit the theory. Public letters by presidents on crucial policy issues are not mentioned (Adams, Jefferson, Madison) or are rationalized as special exceptions to the general rule (Lincoln). Policy-oriented speechmaking by other presidents besides Andrew Johnson is either not acknowledged (Monroe) or mischaracterized as not addressing policy matters (Taylor, McKinley). Other thinly disguised but publicly well understood means of policy communication, such as presidential newspapers, are distinguished as not really representing presidential communication, or representing a different form of communication. Major inconsistencies, such as the fact that George Washington and John Adams delivered their annual messages to Congress in speeches rather than in writing, are not addressed.
As Thomas S. Kuhn showed in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), prevailing scientific theories, such as the Ptolemaic theory of an earth-centered universe, can seem to explain observed phenomena so well that they become overwhelming "paradigms" that are followed unquestioningly. At some point, however, real-world observations of phenomena crop up that do not fit with the predictions of the theory. Kuhn calls these "anomalies." Over time, if they persist or increase, the anomalies begin to seriously undermine the theory itself. Attempts are made to explain away the anomalies, or to modify the theory to accommodate them, but finally the theory begins to lose its paradigmatic See paradigm. status. Eventually, the old theory is replaced by a new theory that not only explains everything the old theory did, but the anomalies as well.
In the field of presidential studies, there is a theory that, while encompassing Tulis's important observations, also accommodates the actual substantial variation in the public communication activities of pre-twentieth-century presidents. This theory rests not on one narrow norm of correct rhetorical conduct by presidents, but rather on the existence of two competing attitudes regarding correct official conduct by presidents. As Richard Ellis demonstrates in his impressive new work, Presidential Travel: The Journey from George Washington to George W. Bush (2008), early American presidents found themselves balancing two essentially contradictory roles in the constitutional order: that of the titular tit·u·lar
1. Relating to, having the nature of, or constituting a title.
a. Existing in name only; nominal: the titular head of the family.
b. head of state, and that of the popularly responsive leader of nation and party. Presidents who focused too much on the first role and employed too much ceremony were accused of being "king-like" and losing touch with the people. Presidents who got involved publicly in policy and partisan issues were accused of not acting as the dignified leaders of the entire nation (Ellis 2008, 82). Thus, presidents found themselves "navigating between conflicting expectations about how they should behave and speak in public" (Ellis and Walker 2007, 268; see also Ellis 2008, 8-9, 70-71, 242-45).
Viewed through this different conceptual framework For the concept in aesthetics and art criticism, see .
A conceptual framework is used in research to outline possible courses of action or to present a preferred approach to a system analysis project. , presidential public communication behaviors that vary from the theoretical strictures of The Rhetorical Presidency are no longer troublesome anomalies. For example, there is no need to wrestle with the apparent contradiction that Washington and Adams delivered their annual messages to Congress in speeches, rather than in writing as they were supposed to have done according to Tulis's norm. Washington and Adams delivered their annual messages in speeches because they obviously thought that was the presidentially appropriate way to behave. And Jefferson's decision to deliver his annual messages to Congress in writing was not made out of deference to a norm of rhetorical conduct, but out of his concern that the pompous pom·pous
1. Characterized by excessive self-esteem or exaggerated dignity; pretentious: pompous officials who enjoy giving orders.
2. annual speechmaking of his predecessors had seemed too monarchical. (19) Similarly, acknowledging that many premodern presidents at times communicated with the public on policy matters, and at other times remained ceremoniously cer·e·mo·ni·ous
1. Strictly observant of or devoted to ceremony, ritual, or etiquette; punctilious: "borne on silvery trays by ceremonious world-weary waiters" Financial Times. detached, frees up scholarly energy. Scholars can move beyond obscure debates over how to characterize the public rhetoric of different premodern presidents. Instead, they can focus on analyzing the overall strategies, both rhetorical and political, that presidents employed when participating in the national policy-making process.
It also must be recognized that the reserved rhetorical presidency model, which postulates that early presidents almost all behaved in the same way for more than a century, increasingly conflicts with modern scholarship on the vibrant institutional character of the presidency. As Stephen Skowronek This July 2007 relies largely or entirely upon a .
Please help [ improve this article] by introducing appropriate of additional sources. shows in The Politics Presidents Make (1993), the presidency has always been a dynamic institution, with presidents working hard to accomplish their goals in constrained political environments. A model that envisions presidents in their public communication strategies as always maneuvering between two conceptions of the office seems to reflect this political historical reality better than one that prescribes reserved, monotonic monotonic - In domain theory, a function f : D -> C is monotonic (or monotone) if
for all x,y in D, x <= y => f(x) <= f(y).
("<=" is written in LaTeX as \sqsubseteq). behavior. The variations in public communication behavior by presidents discussed in this article illustrate the dynamic ways in which presidents have dealt with conflicting popular attitudes toward the presidency. Those expectations have existed since the Founding, and continue to challenge occupants of the office today.
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(1.) As Tulis acknowledges in The Rhetorical Presidency, his assertion that Johnson's impeachment impeachment, formal accusation issued by a legislature against a public official charged with crime or other serious misconduct. In a looser sense the term is sometimes applied also to the trial by the legislature that may follow. was based on a general sense in Congress that Johnson's speechmaking had been offensive as a constitutional matter is not shared by other scholars (Tulis 1987, 91; see also Laracey 2002, 112-20). Ellis writes that "the problem was not that Johnson spoke about public policy.... presidents since Monroe had done so without being pilloried let alone impeached" (2008, 86).
(2.) As Ellis puts it in describing the public discussion that arose over James Monroe's presidential speaking tours in 1817 and 1819, the debate "was generally not about whether and how the president should speak to the people; it was not, in other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently , about the rhetorical presidency. Rather the debate was about whether and how the president should travel among and interact with the people. It was, in short, a debate about the proper relationship between the president and the people, about the place of the presidency in a democratic republic" (2008, 38).
(3.) Of course, even if they were not publicly communicating on policy matters, presidents were often active participants in the policy-making process in other ways.
(4.) For highly informative articles by noted communication studies scholars on the rhetorical aspects of many of these presidencies (Washington, Van Buren, Tyler, Polk, Pierce, Buchanan, Johnson, Grant, Hayes, B. Harrison, Cleveland, and McKinley), see Martin J. Medhurst's volume Before the Rhetorical Presidency (2008). Some of the presidents who, out of scholarly caution, are classified here as not communicating through speeches on policy matters may eventually merit reclassification Reclassification
The process of changing the class of mutual funds once certain requirements have been met. These requirements are generally placed on load mutual funds. Reclassification is not considered to be a taxable event. , depending on future research regarding the extent and character of their speechmaking activities. Ellis refers to Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren as having made some speeches that directly addressed policy matters (Ellis 2008, 57 [Jackson], 63-67 [Van Buren]; see also Ellis and Walker 2007, 267 n. 47 [Van Buren]. Laracey (2006) found descriptions in Jackson's presidential newspaper of citizen groups (encouraged, the paper said, by opponents of his war against the Bank of the United States) traveling to Washington to meet with Jackson and then, according to Jackson's newspaper, returning to their hometowns and publishing newspaper accounts "misrepresenting, most materially, what the President said, in the conversation held with them." Amy Slagel (2008) argues that Rutherford B. Hayes, in the speeches he made on several tours across the United States, addressed substantive policy issues far more than is generally acknowledged.
(5.) Tulis now maintains that McKinley's speeches were still not as purely policy oriented as were the speeches of truly "modern" presidents. This judgment is also incorrect. McKinley made numerous strident assertions in his speeches on the most critical policy issues of the day, including claims that the United States would never give up the newly acquired Philippines Territory, even in the face of public criticism from such prominent Americans as Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie, and former president Benjamin Harrison (see Laracey 2002, 134-37, Appendix C, listing references to the Philippines Territory and the Spanish-American War in McKinley's speeches from August to October 1899). Another relevant recent assessment is that of William D. Harpine (2008), who writes that McKinley "did, with tact and subtlety sub·tle·ty
n. pl. sub·tle·ties
1. The quality or state of being subtle.
2. Something subtle, especially a nicety of thought or a fine distinction. , go over the heads of Congress to the people to advocate and, sometimes, to articulate policy.... McKinley was as active a public speaker as [Theodore] Roosevelt, if not more so, and dearly understood the importance of swaying public opinion toward his views."
(6.) Taylor also used his presidential newspaper to promote his policy positions and attack those of his opponents (see Laracey 2002, 91-93).
(7.) In light of these findings, more research into Monroe's use of the National Intelligencer as his presidential newspaper seems warranted.
(8.) During this time, Alexander Hamilton also published a series of strident essays that played a key role in shaping public opinion on the war question (Ferling 1992, 355).
(9.) As Adams had done, Madison also employed nonverbal public communication. In the early months after the United States declared war on Great Britain Great Britain, officially United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, constitutional monarchy (2005 est. pop. 60,441,000), 94,226 sq mi (244,044 sq km), on the British Isles, off W Europe. The country is often referred to simply as Britain. , he "visited the War and Navy departments, 'stimulating everything in a manner worthy of a commander in chief, with his little round hat and huge cockade' " (Ketcham 1971, 534). For an insightful analysis of the use of visual, nonverbal rhetoric by early presidents, see Hoffman (2009).
(10.) Tulis also finds it significant that, in both of these replies, Lincoln addressed policy issues only "after the fact" (1987, 83). However, Lincoln in other public letters did address policy issues "before the fact," as when he addressed the issue of slavery in his reply to Horace Greeley. This focus on "after the fact" argumentation seems to be an attempt to distinguish Lincoln's communications from the modern conception of "going public," which consists of presidents trying to influence Congress prospectively. Even when a president says something about policy after its adoption by Congress, however, that still constitutes presidential involvement in the policy process because the execution of the policy depends in large part on the president.
(11.) Confronted with new scholarly findings that pre-twentieth-century presidents addressed policy matters much more extensively than is depicted in The Rhetorical Presidency, Tulis (2007, 486-88) generally minimizes the significance of the findings.
(12.) For another contemporaneous con·tem·po·ra·ne·ous
Originating, existing, or happening during the same period of time: the contemporaneous reigns of two monarchs. See Synonyms at contemporary. affirmation of the link between the National Intelligencer and the Jefferson administration, see the December 10, 1804, journal entry by William Plumer For other persons named William Plumer, see William Plumer (disambiguation).
William Plumer (June 25, 1759 – December 22, 1850) was an American lawyer and lay preacher from Epping, New Hampshire. in which he says that the administration "by their conduct, tho' contrary to their news paper declarations," was admitting the unsustainability of its public contention that West Florida
West Florida was a region on the north shore of the Gulf of Mexico, which underwent several boundary and sovereignty changes during its history. had been included in the Louisiana Territory (Brown 1923, 219).
(13.) Ironically, this distinction appears increasingly outmoded. Presidential communication strategies now incorporate web-based techniques that are in some significant ways like the old presidential newspapers. The White House Web site, for example, is full of material written or spoken on behalf of the president by others, some anonymously and some not. (Even Barney, President George W. Bush's dog, had things to say on behalf of the administration.) Internet postings, along with more direct techniques such as text and e-mail messages, will likely be important mass communication tools for President Barack Obama, as they were during his campaign.
(14.) Tulis acknowledges in The Rhetorical Presidency that the address "attempted to provide policy direction that was Federalist, to be sure" (1987, 68).
(15.) As Martin Medhurst observes in his critique of this aspect of the thesis of The Rhetorical Presidency, "history has shown that any number of rhetorical forms can be used to energize en·er·gize
v. en·er·gized, en·er·giz·ing, en·er·giz·es
1. To give energy to; activate or invigorate: "His childhood the public--or to invite deliberation" (2008. 330). For a somewhat different view, see Ceaser (2007, 278-79).
(16.) Stephen Lucas raised this criticism several years ago at a symposium on the rhetorical presidency. In his words, "the extent and openness of [Washington's] rhetorical activities as president pose a major problem for those scholars who argue that there existed a constitutional norm that prohibited pre-twentieth-century presidents from going public through the medium of public speech" (Lucas 2008, 39).
(17.) Tulis describes Wilson as having changed "nearly 150 years of practice" when he decided to deliver his annual messages as speeches to Congress beginning in 1913 (1987, 133). Actually, 112 years had passed since Jefferson had begun the practice in 1801. See also Stephen Lucas, "Present at the Founding: The Rhetorical Presidency in Historical Perspective," in Medhurst 2008, 38).
(18.) It is true that none of these presidents addressed policy matters on a continuous basis, as is done now. That is not, however, a valid distinction. As noted previously, the public efforts of all of these presidents, except perhaps Jefferson and Madison, matched or exceeded those of Andrew Johnson, who himself only engaged in speechmaking episodically ep·i·sod·ic also ep·i·sod·i·cal
1. Relating to or resembling an episode.
2. Composed of a series of episodes: an episodic novel.
(19.) This has always been the conventional explanation (see Laracey 2002, 62 n. 57; Tulis 1987, 56). There is also this corroborative cor·rob·o·rate
tr.v. cor·rob·o·rat·ed, cor·rob·o·rat·ing, cor·rob·o·rates
To strengthen or support with other evidence; make more certain. See Synonyms at confirm. account from 1809: Republican Congressman Randolph asserted in a House debate that he liked the practice begun by Jefferson of delivering the annual message in writing because, "To tell the truth, the stile of communicating by speech was more in the stile of the opening of the British Parliament Noun 1. British Parliament - the British legislative body
British House of Commons, House of Commons - the lower house of the British parliament
British House of Lords, House of Lords - the upper house of the British parliament by the king." The National Intelligencer published the debate on the first page of its May 31, 1809, issue. For a description of the high ceremony for Washington's sixth annual address, see Lucas (2002, 55).
Mel Laracey is an associate professor of political science in the Department of Political Science and senior faculty associate in the Institute for Law and Public Policy at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I thank Richard J. Ellis, Fred I. Greenstein, and Martin J. Medhurst for their helpful comments during the writing of this article.
TABLE 1 Pre-Twentieth-Century Presidents, Classified by Party and Public Communications Behavior Open Veiled Patriotic Communicator Communicator Cheerleader Silent Head Washington (Federalist) J. Adams (Federalist) Jefferson [Jefferson] (Democrat) Madison [Madison] (Democrat) Monroe (Democrat) J. Q. Adams (Pre-Whig) Jackson (Democrat) Van Buren (Democrat) W. Harrison (Whig) Tyler (Whig/ Democrat (1) Polk (Democrat) Taylor (Whig) [Taylor] Fillmore (Whig) Pierce (Democrat) Buchanan (Democrat) Lincoln (Union/ Republican) Johnson (Union/ Democrat (2)) Grant (Republican) Hayes (Republican) Garfield (Republican) Arthur (Republican) Cleveland (Democrat) (3) B. Harrison McKinley (Republican) (Republican) Total for each category: 8 7 * 2 7 * Jefferson, Madison, and Taylor, who also used newspapers as modes of communication, are counted only as Open Communicators to avoid confusion. (1.) Although he ran on the Whig ticket in 1840, John Tyler was a Jacksonian Democrat. (2.) Although he ran on the Union/Republican ticket with Abraham Lincoln in 1804, Andrew Johnson was a lifelong Democrat. (3.) Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms but is only counted once. TABLE 2 Presidential Public Communication Behavior and Partisan Affiliation Policy Communicator Avoided Policy Communication Democrat * Republican ** Democrat * Republican ** Washington J. Adams Jefferson Madison Monroe J. Q. Adams Jackson Van Buren W. Harrison Tyler Polk Taylor Fillmore Pierce Buchanan Lincoln Johnson Grant Hayes Garfield Arthur Cleveland B. Harrison Cleveland (counted once) McKinley 10 5 1 8 * Includes Jeffersonian Democrat-Republicans and Democrats. ** Includes Federalists, Whigs, and Republicans.